Boy 2 had a birthday about three weeks ago. The one thing he has been after us to get him since time out of mind is a turtle. I did the research, and it turns out that turtles are pretty low maintenance, and land tortoises even more so. We found a Russian tortoise on craigslist (not supposed to sell pets there, but oh well.). The tortoise and my son are both ten years old. Russian tortoises have a life span of 50 years, so this is no small commitment, even if they are easy to care for.
Knowing full well that if left to his own devices, Boy 2 would name his new pet something creative like "Yertle" or "Shelly", we helped find names that were original. I was hoping for Vlad the Impaler, but I was shot down. Putin was my second choice, but the boys heard "pootin'" and that one quickly left the list. The Russian tortoise's new name is Gorbachev, Gorby for short. I mispronounce it and call him "Gorbachoff Hasselhoff" (see, because he's a slow runner, Baywatch style). I think it's hilarious. The rest of the family thinks I'm annoying. Oh well.
Anyway, I never expected a reptile to be so damn charming. He's a doll. He has this little snuffly noise he makes when you hold him. He gets so excited when I come to the tank, and he stretches his little turtle neck out to me. He snuggles. I kid you not. He's like...the best pet ever. He's so endearing, and smart. He comes to the glass of the tank when we feed him, he knows. He bangs his shell on the cage when he's hungry. He basks under his little heat lamp, he burrows. He yawns and it's like...amazing somehow. I can't convey how utterly sweet he is. I know he's a turtle, but that's the point, I didn't expect him to be so aware and communicative.
I read about all the plastic in the oceans. I watch videos of crabs eating little scraps of plastic shopping bags off the shoreline. I see horrifying pictures of birds decomposed into nothing but bones, feathers, and a pile of plastic where their stomachs used to be. I see what may or may not be a real picture of a turtle whose shell is deformed by a plastic ring encircling it since it was a baby. And I won't post any of those things here, because I'm not going to start a shock campaign...not today.
But when I watch Gorby trundling around, snuffling my son and doing The Hoff Baywatch Run over to his water bowl when we fill it up, and I think about all of those animals poisoned from the outside by oil slicks, strangled from the inside by plastic waste...it gets personal. Animals know. They are aware. Doesn't your dog get mad at you? Doesn't she feel sadness when she's in trouble? Doesn't your cat feel pain? Seagulls and seahorses and dolphins and whales and turtles... If they were human babies, wouldn't we take more notice? Probably only if it was happening on the sidewalk outside our homes. Because it's easy to dismiss if it isn't personal.
If I dumped my plastic bags, popped balloons, tampon applicators, and cigarette lighters my neighbor's nursery, there would be an uproar. How utterly anthropocentric and crass to do the same outdoors where animals are living and raising their young. It has to stop.
I'm starting the show us your plastic challenge at Fake Plastic Fish tomorrow. I encourage anyone reading this to join me. Awareness is the first step toward action.